The Tigers received some grim news on Thursday when they learned closer Joe Nathan suffered a torn UCL in his right elbow during a rehab start. The right-hander will need season-ending Tommy John surgery. Nathan had made only once appearance during the 2015 regular season, recording a one-out save.
As Nathan is 40 years old and will be 41 if and when he takes the mound next season. That, along with his struggles last year, caused many to speculate that the veteran is headed towards retirement. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports otherwise. “I am preparing myself to be a major league player again,” Nathan said. “That is my goal.”
Nathan blew seven saves with a 4.81 ERA and a mediocre 54/29 K/BB ratio in 58 innings.
Joakim Soria has pitched well in the closer’s role sans Nathan. On the season, he’s 5-for-5 in save chances with a 1.35 ERA and a 4/0 K/BB ratio in 6 2/3 innings.
Joe Nathan’s season and possibly his career are over, as the Tigers announced that the 40-year-old closer suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow while rehabbing at Triple-A for a strained flexor tendon and will undergo Tommy John surgery.
Nathan cut short his Wednesday rehab appearance and walked off the mound in pain, so the significant injury is no surprise.
When the Tigers signed Nathan to a two-year, $20 million deal he was coming off a fantastic two-year run with the Rangers in which he saved 80 games with a 2.09 ERA and 151/35 K/BB ratio and prior to that he was an elite closer with the Twins for seven seasons.
In his decade-long (2004-2013) run as an elite closer Nathan saved 340 games with a 2.14 ERA and .545 opponents’ OPS. For comparison, during that same 2004-2013 span Mariano Rivera saved 369 games with a 1.92 ERA and .540 opponents’ OPS. Nathan also ranks fourth among all relievers in Win Probability Added since 1975, behind only Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Goose Gossage.
Things were never right for Nathan in Detroit, however, as he struggled enough to get booed off the mound at Comerica Park, fought back against the angry crowd by making an obscene gesture, and simply never got on track before being shut down with the injury.
Now he’s likely facing a 12-15 month recovery timetable, which means Nathan would be nearly 42 years old upon returning. Retirement seems likely after 15 seasons, 377 saves, a 2.89 ERA, six All-Star games, and $85 million in earnings.
Tigers closer Joe Nathan made a minor-league rehab appearance today at Triple-A Toledo and left after just 10 pitches while reportedly clutching his elbow.
Nathan is on the disabled list with a strained flexor tendon and was scheduled to throw one inning and/or 25 pitches. He ended up leaving in the middle of the at-bat against his third batter.
Prior to leaving Nathan topped out in the high-80s with his fastball and James Schmehl of MLive.com described him as “clearly in pain” as he walked off the mound.